As the days wind down in 2017, we wanted to take the time to review our greatest victories for kids and some of the biggest challenges, and to consider what 2018 will hold for kids.
In Lincoln, lawmakers moved the needle for child well-being in the state with a number of bills signed into law:
- LB 427, introduced by Senator Vargas, provides protections and support for pregnant and parenting students in high school. Under the new law, school districts will have written policy and procedure intended to remove barriers to successful high school completion among young parents.
- LB 225 reauthorized the Alternative Response pilot project in the state child welfare system, which allows for a more family-focused response to cases of child maltreatment when there is no immediate safety risk identified.
- LB 8 implemented a system of graduated responses for juvenile probation officers, to both incentivize youth engaging in positive behaviors while on probation, and to provide a developmentally appropriate response so that technical violations of probation don’t have to result in further charges or incarceration.
- LB 11 clarified Nebraska’s court transfer statute to allow for earlier, speedier appeals on motions transferring cases between juvenile and adult criminal court. This change ensures that older youth will not lose precious months or even years of rehabilitative services, waiting for a final decision on the appropriate court of jurisdiction.
Still, the Nebraska Legislature missed out on many other opportunities to advance pro-kid bills:
- A bill that would have eased the “cliff effect” in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for working families failed to advance by one vote. Hunger is on the rise in the state, and LB 358, introduced by Senator McCollister, would have helped more hardworking Nebraska families get closer to financial independence without sacrificing their ability to make ends meet.
- Lawmakers failed to restore $1.2 million in budget cuts for abused and neglected children. In his approval of the final budget package advanced by the Legislature, Governor Ricketts included cuts to child welfare aid, though many advocates and families warned that any cuts would exacerbate dangerously high caseloads within the system.
- Members of the Banking Committee failed to act on a bill that would strengthen protections against predatory lending in the state. The committee heard from a number of Nebraskans who have been trapped in a vicious cycle of debt and called for sensible reform to an industry that currently charges up to 460% in interest.
- LB 158, a bill to ensure all children in Nebraska receive the protection of legal counsel when facing charges in juvenile court, stalled on general file and was not brought back to the floor for further debate. Currently, less than two-thirds of Nebraska youth receive access to counsel in juvenile proceedings, and this rate varies dramatically county by county. The bill remains in limbo, pending further action by the Legislature in the 2018 session.
Additionally, the Nebraska Supreme Court adopted case progression standards for judges in juvenile court proceedings, aimed at reducing court delays in periods of urgency for families and children. Speedy timelines are laid out for when youth are being held in confinement, and when a court is considering an order terminating parental rights. The Supreme Court also adopted guidelines for all attorneys who practice in juvenile court, to ensure that lawyers representing Nebraska kids maintain high ethical and professional standards.
At the federal level, it’s clear that our children need outspoken advocates now, more than ever. A few dangerous proposals in Congress were narrowly defeated this year, including an effort that would have decimated health care for low-income children. In addition, the clock continues to tick on another proposal that would cause children to lose health insurance as Congress to date has failed to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides critical health care access for millions of kids nationwide including thousands of young Nebraskans. Several lawmakers have already signaled their intention to continue to put kids last in 2018 by drastically cutting federal investments in child health and nutrition programs.
Next year, we will continue to advocate for state policy solutions that reduce child hunger, strengthen parent-child relationships through incarceration, protect youth from the collateral harms of court records, and eliminate the use of extended solitary confinement in our youth-serving facilities.
For 30 years and counting, Voices for Children in Nebraska has worked to ensure that all children in our state are able to reach their full potential. In 2018, we’ll need the support of children’s advocates like you to advance a vision for Nebraska where strong communities allow all children to thrive. Here are three ways for you to Join us today: